4 May 2014

#PRODUCT: Citizen #drone warfare

Some of us firmly believe that technology has turned away from empowering regimes against their citizens, and now empowers citizens against their regimes.

The best-known case of citizens taking advantage of technology to outmaneuver the state is information technology. People are now more informed about the world and politics and less likely to fall for propaganda. They have more influence as writers or as activists, as represented by the global affinity group known as Anonymous.

Government surveillance is everywhere, but ordinary people can use much of the same vulnerability against their regimes. Many activists and bystanders can make use of their mobile phones to record police abuse, or to record evidence of officials behaving unacceptably.

Insiders within regimes can easily leak information about their government’s criminal behavior, as Edward Snowden did, thanks to simple devices such as memory sticks. In many ways, digital technology has done a lot more to make governments transparent and give citizens new rights and means of expression than it is often credited for. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that the overwhelming direction of technology is towards liberating the people and making them uncontrollable rather than making them easier to control.

One advantage that governments have is drones. While large unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used as platforms for the assassination of political targets in their homes by the US government in Pakistan and Yemen, they have not been used as combat weapons.

The assassination role of the drone weapons troubles many dissidents and bystanders in the Western World itself, and a newer phenomenon that people increasingly fear is the use of smaller drones. Some future drones may be as small as insects, and could be used for espionage or even assassination. However, this is where the advantage shifts away from regimes and towards ordinary citizens. The smaller the technology, the easier it is to be captured and used by citizens as a self-defense tool, and the easier it is for comparable technology to end up easily available on the market.

Right now, the Parrot A. R. Drone fits this description. Available to be bought at a relatively affordable price and used for surveillance by its users, it can be operated by smartphone and is equipped with a high definition video camera. In theory, it could be used by activists to help coordinate protest actions, gather information on police tactics, and record evidence of police brutality during such events.

There are likely to emerge many other technologies in the works that dissidents can use to broaden their options against their regimes. The present availability of surveillance drones to the public makes it more important to explore their possibilities, and the possibilities of other products for the purpose of strengthening each individual’s own civil and political rights.

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